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Recognising Dental Disease in the Horse

Cheek ulcer caused by an overgrown tooth.Diagnosing dental disease in the horse is not as obvious as you might expect. Frequently there are no external signs as dental problems tend to develop slowly over time.

Below is a list of clinical signs associated with dental problems in horses. Remember that the most common sign is nothing at all! Many horses have sharp enamel overgrowths and oral ulceration without showing any obvious signs of pain. This is why it’s vital to get your horse’s teeth checked by an equine dental vet twice a year.

Signs of Dental Disease in the Horse:

  • Difficult, slow or reluctant eating and chewing
  • Halitosis (bad breath)
  • Dropping partially chewed food from the mouth
  • Excessive salivation
  • Quidding (accumulation of food in the cheek pouches)
  • Changes in manure (particularly hard faecal balls, cow pat-type manure or the presence of undigested long fibrous material)
  • Head shaking, bitting problems, resistance to the bit, and hanging to one side when ridden
  • Oral pain
  • Smelly nasal discharge
  • Facial swelling
  • Weight loss, poor body condition, or failure to gain weight
  • Other behavioural/training issues

If the teeth are not cared for correctly during the horse’s lifetime, they can become worn or lost as the horse ages. This makes it difficult for the older horse to chew their food properly and maintain body weight. It can also lead to the development of systemic diseases such as oesophageal obstruction (choke) or colic.

If your horse shows any of the above signs, a thorough oral cavity examination by your equine dental vet is warranted to rule out dental disease. For further information on equine dentistry or to locate your nearest equine dental vet, please visit www.equinedentalvets.com

Could this be your horse's mouth?
Could this be your horse's mouth? (Photo courtesy of Dr Shannon Lee)

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